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Cite as: April 2011 85(4) LIJ, p.72

This month’s reviews cover understanding financial data, labour law, security of payment in the building industry and notable cases.

Financial Literacy for Lawyers, Directors and Investors

Andrew McRobert and Ronnie Hoffman, Financial Literacy for Lawyers, Directors and Investors, 2010, Thomson Reuters (Professional), pb $141.90.

There is an old joke that lawyers are numerically illiterate – until it comes to calculating their fees. Certainly, there is a perception that a lot of lawyers share with many company directors – and occasional investors – a lack of the necessary training to understand financial data. It is this perceived deficiency that the authors – a lecturer and a journalist – have set out to rectify.

The authors establish some of the scenarios in which lawyers, who will not be expert financial analysts, need to be armed with the skills to read and interpret financial statements. First, many lawyers are proprietors of their own firms and may, for example, wonder why profits do not seem to be reflected in bank balances. Second, lawyers who deal with businesses as clients will be expected to be able to talk sensibly about the accounts in areas of practice from sale of businesses to insolvency. Third, many lawyers will from time to time be required to understand and analyse expert financial reports, whether in litigation or transactional files.

This book is a densely packed textbook, well presented but with an impressive amount of detailed teaching within it. It walks through basic accounting concepts in detail, before lengthy examinations of balance sheets, P & L statements, annual reports and cash flow statements. The final three sections of the book examine ratio analyses, including how to calculate EBIT and other measures; how to identify manipulation of accounts through deceptive cosmetic concealments; and finally a chapter on financial institutions and the roles they play in using and understanding financial statements.

Each chapter explains how and why various financial statements are prepared and relied on. The book uses the 2004 books of Ion Ltd as a real-life example (with the full published accounts set out in an appendix), as well as other hypothetical examples to illustrate theory in a practical way. In an era where accountants continue to encroach on fields once the domain of lawyers, it is a useful text to assist lawyers from being left behind when it comes to understanding financial data.

MARK WORSNOP, Kahns Lawyers

Labour Law (5th edn)

Breen Creighton and Andrew Stewart, Labour Law (5th edn), 2010, The Federation Press, pb $165.

It has been five years since the last edition of this classic textbook on Australian labour law, authored by two of Australia’s pre-eminent experts in the field.

Labour Law provides a comprehensive and authoritative account of the core areas of employment and labour relations law. The first two of the book’s six key parts deal with the development of Australia’s unique system of labour regulation, the role of international labour standards and the scope of the federal and state systems under the Fair Work Act 2009.

Unlike previous editions, the central parts focus on the formation, content and termination of the individual work relationship, reflecting the fact that over the past two decades individual rights and remedies have developed apace, and collective processes have lost their pre-eminence.

The accounts of employment conditions and termination of employment address the common law and statutory rights concurrently, enabling the reader to form a clear picture of the interrelationship between these two key sources of rights and obligations. The processes of collective bargaining, the role of trade unions and industrial action are given comprehensive treatment in the last two parts.

This edition is about 200 pages longer than the fourth edition, reflecting the continued complexity of labour regulation in Australia. The expanded text includes information on contemporary issues such as the separate regulation of the building and construction industry and gives more comprehensive treatment of important topics like occupational health and safety.

The authors actively engage the reader in the policy debates that inevitably arise in labour law and point out where there may be potential difficulties and shortcomings in the law and the institutions that make and interpret it.

After the massive changes that have occurred in labour legislation over the past 15 years, we are now in a more settled period. Of course, key new areas like good faith bargaining workplace rights will continue to develop quickly as decisions are made and appealed.

KAREN WHEELWRIGHT, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Adjudication in the Building Industry (3rd edn)

Philip Davenport, Adjudication in the Building Industry (3rd edn), 2010, The Federation Press, pb $89.95.

Adjudication in the Building Industry neatly summarises the key elements of Australia’s security of payment regimes including, but not limited to, the swift interim determination process termed “adjudication”. The title does not do justice to the breadth of the text’s coverage.

While around half the chapters are specifically devoted to the adjudication process, the balance deal with security of payment more broadly, including its application to “construction contracts”; payment claims and payment schedules; issue estoppel; and the Victorian innovation known as “review adjudication”.

The work is a practical guide to a regime in which the author has a significant role (including as adjudicator of some 500 claims) and evidently endorses. Davenport says (at page 4): “Adjudication attempts to redress [the] imbalance [of time and cost involved for claimants in recovering payment] and places the claimant on a more even footing”.

This edition covers the security of payment legislation in all Australian jurisdictions. The second edition’s New Zealand coverage is gone, as is the useful set of forms and example adjudication determinations in the appendices to the second edition. Instead, the structure of each chapter deals more precisely with jurisdictionally-specific details and differences, following some general introductory remarks.

A helpful comparison of key time limits appears at the start of the second chapter, which outlines the salient features of all the Australian Acts. The chapter on setting aside an adjudicator’s decision is much expanded and reworked, in line with the significant recent developments in case law in this area. The Court of Appeal decision in Chase Oyster Bar will need to await the next edition for coverage.

This is a handy reference work for participants in the building and construction industry nationwide.

CATHERINE BELL, Herbert Geer

Cases That Changed Our Lives

Ian McDougall (ed), Cases That Changed Our Lives, 2010, LexisNexis, pb $21.65.

Post-slavery racial segregation, cannibalism on the high seas and Sunday afternoon cinema screenings are some of the sensational subjects canvassed in Cases That Changed Our Lives.

This book is a collection of writings by prominent lawyers on key cases that have changed or created our laws and played an important part in the development of the common law.

Common law developed over many centuries and is still developing. Lawyers need to be aware of its legal history, in particular when and how important doctrines have been developed, so they can understand the current law and be better prepared to change it when necessary.

The text is set out in seven parts, broadly characterised into public law, land law, criminal law, civil law, right to life law, the state and terrorism in the 21st century and family law.

Practitioners will be familiar with High Trees, Wednesbury and Mareva, among a broad range of classic and modern cases. There are discussions on some Australian cases, including contributions on the implied freedom of political discourse as well as Mabo by retired Federal Court judge Dr Kevin Lindgren QC.

However, Australian lawyers will find this book very Anglo-centric in its approach. There are few Australian or US cases and a distinct lack of cases from other common law jursidictions.

Some cases are notably absent. There is no doubting the importance of Kisch’s case, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan’s famous battle in the Scopes monkey trial, the cross-examination of Max Steuer in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory case, the development of unconscionable conduct in Commercial Bank v Amadio, and the impact of Ronald Ryan’s hanging. However, none of these is present. Perhaps the editor will consider their inclusion in a further edition.

Cases That Changed Our Lives is an affordable volume. While it would suit students new to the law, many practitioners would also enjoy and benefit from reading it.

TASMAN FLEMING, CAU Department of Human Services

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